Thursday, September 8, 2011

Johnny Appleseed Squares

Ah, la rentrée. Because everyone in France takes a summer vacation, returning from vacation and going back to school/work is as much of a ritual as is going on vacation. There's the ritual traffic jams, the stores opening up, the asking about the other's vacation, the buying of school supplies.  And there are back-to-school events.

 Since I like to feel involved and all, I volunteered to help with a back-to-school event, answering questions from new parents. I also recruited volunteers to help out, and to say thank you, I of course baked cookies.

This is a great back-to-school kind of recipe. It feels healthy because of all the oats. It's got apples "for the teacher." It's soft and cinnamon-y and comforting.

It's also a very American dessert, because of the heartiness and the cinnamon. The French people at the event distinguished themselves very quickly from the foreigners in reacting to being offered a cookie: my Spanish and Portuguese and American friends (and French friends who had just come back from the States) gobbled them up; the French looked askance and went back to their store-bought madeleines. À chacun son gout (to each his own), I suppose.

I had made this recipe before (I'm pretty sure it's when I lived in Germany, because I had scribbled gram measurements in the margins) and had noted to myself that it was "more like a cake than a cookie." Maybe more like a granola bar than a cookie. But I really recommend it if you want to reward yourself and/or others for making the transition back into the real world--of for having stayed there.

Here's the recipe.

Johnny Appleseed Squares

1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour (some whole wheat would work well here, I'm sure)
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1-1/2 c. (4.5 oz.) rolled or quick-cooking oats
2/3 c. (4.6 oz.) brown sugar
1/2 c. (4 oz.) melted butter
1 large egg
1 t. vanilla
2-3 tart apples that will hold their shape, like Granny Smith or Pink Lady
1/2 c. (2 oz.) chopped toasted pecans

Let me tell you now that I'm giving you my simplified technique for making this, which does not involve rolling the top crust between two pieces of waxed paper and chilling that. My less elegant technique worked for me in the 80s, and it worked for me this weekend.
OK, heat the oven to 350. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil or parchment and butter it (put the butter in the pan, put the pan in the oven for a minute, and then brush the butter around). 
In a medium-large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Whisk in the brown sugar (you may want to smooth out the lumps with your fingers) and oats. Then stir in the melted butter, egg, and vanilla. Drop half the dough by spoonfuls onto the lined, buttered pan and use your fingers to press it in a more or less even layer. Peel, core, and slice the apples and layer them on top. Sprinkle the pecans over the apples. Then drop the rest of the dough on top of the apples and again carefully smooth the dough over the apples with your fingers or the back of a spoon.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool in the pan. Remove from the pan and peel off the foil/paper before cutting into 16-24 squares (Maida suggests these are easier to cut if chilled). Put in a Tupperware and share with your friends who like cinnamon.

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